How To Cook Meat Like A Pro: The Best Methods For Every Cut

Plus, a simple trick for figuring out what kind of recipe to use.

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How to cook meat: Steak topped with mushrooms with a side of potatoes

David Wolfman’s juniper buffalo tomahawk steak with oyster mushroom sauce. Photo, Marlene Finn and David Wolfman.

Don’t stress the next time you pick up a discounted piece of meat or fish at the grocery store, even if you’ve never cooked it before — there’s an easy way to determine how to prepare it.

First Nations chef David Wolfman shares a slew of tips and tricks in his latest cookbook Cooking with the Wolfman. Few pieces of advice, however, are as integral to each recipe as determining the ideal cooking technique before you start, based on the fattiness of a protein. He breaks the methods into two categories: dry and wet techniques.

Dry-heat cooking includes grilling, broiling, roasting and baking and is best for fatty cuts of meat. Moist-heat cooking involves a liquid for poaching, simmering or boiling, which is better for leaner types of protein.

Want to learn more about using this rule in your kitchen? See some of the examples below to get started.

How to cook beef, pork and game

Tender Cuts

Typically, tender cuts of meat (such as tenderloin or striploin) can be cooked quickly with a dry method, like grilling or broiling. For example, the high fat content in a well-marbled rib-eye steak means you can sear it on the BBQ and, unless it’s cooked until charred, it will likely remain tender and juicy.

Tough Cuts

It’s best to cook these cuts (blade, brisket, short rib) slowly, by stewing or braising them, in order to add moisture and break down the tough proteins. With game meat, like elk or moose, this is taken to the extreme. As Wolfman says “They’re much leaner, so [they] benefit from stewing or braising.”

How to cook meat: BBQ chicken

Chatelaine’s saucy BBQ chicken. Photo, Roberto Caruso.

How to cook poultry

Chicken and Duck

The chicken we buy in supermarkets is typically young, meaning it’s often more tender and forgiving when cooked. Whole chicken is great roasted in the oven, so the fat from the skin permeates the underlying meat.

Chicken thighs and legs — the darker, fattier cuts — work well on the grill and are resistant to overcooking.

Chicken breasts, or the much-used white meat, are often best cooked skin-on, to lock in the juices. They benefit from brining to add moisture if you’re worried about a dry dinner.

Duck breasts, on the other hand, have a thick cap of fat on each breast — when seared, it caramelizes and infuses the lean meat below with moisture.

Turkey

Turkey, a lean animal, is a holiday staple, though everyone dreads a dry bird. A few foolproof tips: If you have the space for it, brining a whole turkey is a trick many experts swear by. If this isn’t a realistic option, go for the dark, often juicy, leg meat.

When using ground turkey, try adding wet component to your dish, like ricotta when you’re forming turkey burgers, which helps keep them juicy.

How to cook meat: Baked fish en papilotte

Chatelaine’s baked fish en papilotte. Photo, Jodi Pudge.

How to cook fish

Whole fish

Like landlubbers, fish can either be oily (herring, mackerel) or lean (cod, orange roughy) and can be prepared using nearly any cooking method (though boiling is generally discouraged as the meat can easily fall apart). For whole small fish, Wolfman recommends grilling, pan frying or steaming. For whole large fish, try baking, roasting or broiling.

Fish steaks and fillets

For fish steaks or thick, oily fillets, baking, roasting or even barbecuing will work great. Thin fish fillets do in the oven, either on a baking sheet or wrapped in a parchment paper package allowing them to steam — just don’t try to turn them too often or you’ll risk breaking them apart.

The best method for smaller fillets, however, is poaching.

Watch: How to sear your meat like a pro